Presented on September 23, 1985 at Quarry Farm. James M. Cox is Professor Emeritus of English at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Recovering Literature's Lost Ground: Essays in American Autobiography (1989) and Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor (2002). He is the editor of the Penguin edition of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi.
My talk will focus on Mark Twain's progress from being a real outlaw (a traitor and a deserter) to his invention of a boy outlaw, a true fugitive, writing through a deviant language to break the laws of literature. I will try to show how Mark Twain envisions slavery as the very metaphor for civilization and (how) the lie was his great means of shielding himself, and the world from the violence of civilized truth.